Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Armchair Traveler reading challenge

So rather than try to go backwards and write reviews for all the books I have sitting here (although I will eventually do just that elsewhere on the web), I figured I'd debut my rather inconsequential reviewing skills by writing about the last book I finished. I really enjoy reading travelogues (and write my own after most trips of any consequence) so when I saw there was a reading challenge called the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, I packed my bags and was off. Each of the 6 books I read for the challenge came from my own groaning bookshelves but they span quite a lot of different places. I chose all non-fiction only because these were the books that jumped off the shelf at me when I was pulling books. So I went down the Mississippi River in a house boat with Mary Morris in her book The River Queen. I motorcycled around New Zealand in search of an authentic Kiwi man with Polly Evans. I investigated anime and manga in Japan with Peter Carey and his son. I learned about the culture and how to cook some plain and some exotic dishes in Bali with Janet De Neefe. I walked the pilgrim road to Santiago in Spain with Tim Moore and his plodding donkey, Shinto, in Travels With My Donkey. And just last night I finished the sixth and final destination on my literary travel itinerary (at least until I get the urge to live vicariously again): I drove the Great Mountain Roads of Ireland on a quest to climb to the heighest point in each of its 32 counties with Paul Clements in his book The Height of Nonsense. What a long, fun trip it's been to go to all these places in which I may never actually step foot.

This last book for the challenge combines two things that intrigue me, Ireland and mountains. I guess I never think of Ireland as a particularly hilly country, nevermind mountainous but it appears I am not thinking of it as a varied place both in terms of landscape and in terms of people and folklore. Clements does a lovely job capturing the differences abounding in the country as he travels around. He talks to local folks in each area, hearing how they relate to the land around them (in some cases this means mountains and in others it means gentle hills), the folklore attached to the areas they live in, and how they go about living their daily lives. Ireland has always seemed appealing to me but never so much as in this well-written love letter to his land.

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